A Coming Buddhist Book
[An Interview with Madame Blavatsky]
The (NY) World, Jan 23, 1877
Reprinted in The Banner of Light, Feb 3, 1877
“The Veil of Isis” and the Lady Who is Writing it—A Double Attack Upon Science and Dogmatic Theology.
[Note: H.P.B. protested to some follow-up articles in the day’s newspapers, which either twisted or misunderstood her meaning about gravitation and her reference to fakirs, as recorded in this interview. See “Concerning Gods and Interviews” “Madame Blavatsky Protests” and “Madame Blavatsky on Fakirs.”]
Mme. Blavatsky was found yesterday afternoon sitting by a blue window with rose-pink curtains, at a large library-table, which occupied all the available space that was not taken up by a desk almost as large, in her cozy workroom. She is an affable Russian lady, no longer very young and certainly not old, who is known all over the world as a scholar in various branches of occult knowledge, she was a member of the Commission appointed some time since by the Russian Government to investigate Spiritualism, and dissents decidedly from the report of that Commission, which was adverse to the claims of Spiritualists. Piled up on the table and desk, and strewed thick upon the door, were hundreds upon hundreds of sheets of manuscript, and in the circumscribed space on the table kept clear for reading and writing, were proof-sheets and more manuscripts and writing materials.
“Yes, I am writing a book,” she said in reply to a question from the reporter. “It is to be called ‘The Veil of Isis,’ and is in two parts. In the first part I attack science, and In the second part dogmatic theology,”
‘‘Surety you do not attack science,” said the startled reporter, wondering what would be left.
“No, not science as it is, but the teachings of modern scientists. Science is a true and beautiful thing, but these modern scientists have not found out what it is. They borrow theories from the ancients, and dress them up in beautiful, eloquent language, and pass them off for their own productions. The ideas that Huxley advanced while he was over here are all taken from the ancients, as I shall show in my book. But they don’t any of them know what they talk about—Huxley, Tyndall and the rest. They refuse to investigate things which are absolutely demonstrated, and they break their noses over the origin of matter, which is a correlation of spirit, and they reach, for a conclusion, the annihilation of man.”
“What is your religion?” asked the reporter.
“I am a Buddhist.”
“But does not Buddhism hold out annihilation as the last best good?”
“Not at all. That is simply one of the misrepresentations of ignorant theologians. The Buddhists say that whatever is beyond the power of human language to describe, beyond the reach of human intellect to conceive—whatever is impossible in any measure to understand is, so far as man is concerned, non-existent, and what we term God is therefore non-existent. That is, that so far as the understanding of man is concerned, God can have no existence. You see it is merely a refinement of metaphysics. And they believe in the triple nature of man; they teach that we are a material body, an astral body, and pure soul, or nous, as the Greek terms it. After the death of the material body we lead a dual existence, and finally, when purified, the soul enters nirvana, that is, it rejoins the Creator.”
“But do Buddhists believe In spirits?”
“Most certainly. The lives of the fakirs illustrate that. A European or an American can hardly imagine the lives they lead. They remain in one attitude, in one spot, for years, absorbed in the contemplation of their souls. If you put food into the mouth of one of them he will eat it. If you don’t he will quietly sit and starve to death. Those men are possessed of pure spirits. And they apparently overcome the laws governing matter. You would not believe me if I should tell you what I have seen them do, and yet the whole world knows that the Prince of Wales saw one of them lift himself up and sit motionless in midair a yard or more away from any support.”
“But what is this astral body you speak of?”
“It is not spirit, and yet not the matter with which we are familiar. It is imponderable matter, imperceptible to the senses.”
“Believing in spirits, do you believe In what are called spiritual manifestations?”
“Certainly. The phenomena that are presented as such are perhaps often frauds. Perhaps only one in a hundred is a genuine communication of spirits, but the one cannot be judged by the others. It is entitled to scientific examination, and the reason the scientists don’t examine it is because they are afraid. They explore in all directions till they come to shut doors, and they dare not open them for fear of returning to the superstitions of our ancestors, who knew far more than we do. But I believe in them because I have seen them. These mediums cannot deceive me. I know more about it than they do. I have lived for years in different parts of the East, and have seen far more wonderful things than they do.
“The day after I arrived in New York,” she continued, “having left Paris suddenly (I did not think of starting until the evening before I started) I went to see Dr. Slade. He knew I was a foreigner by my accent, but he could not tell if I was German or French, or what. He wrote out a message in the Russian language from a friend of my childhood, who died years ago. Again, I have had Mrs. Thayer here over night. She went to bed, and I sat writing, as I often do, until three or four in the morning. I heard her trying to say something in her sleep. Probably (laughing heartily) her materialized grandfather was trying to appear. I went into her room and said, ‘What is the matter?’ On the instant, a shower of freshly-cut flowers, with the night-dew on them, fell from the air, burying her up in the bed.”
“But what purpose is served by spiritual manifestations?” was asked after Mme. Blavatsky had related several such incidents.
“It is proved that spirits do exist. And I have known good done in various ways by private mediums, and by mediums in the East,” was the reply, “But it cannot be expected that pure spirits will communicate with us through such mediums as many of those are to whom you can go and pay 50 cents or $1, or $3 or $5. It is capable of demonstration by medical science that spirits do not communicate through healthy persons. In some way or another, mediums are all imperfect. The spirits which are forever seeking a body to inhabit, seize on those which are defective, being unable to control those which are not. So in the East, insane persons are regarded with peculiar veneration, as being possessed of spirits.”
“Possessed of a devil, the Scripture has it,” suggested the reporter.
“No. Daimon is the word in the Scriptures. It does not necessarily mean a devil. It may mean a god. Socrates had a daimon, and he certainly was not possessed of a devil.”
“A god? Then do you believe in gods?”1
“According to the Scriptures, Jehovah said, ‘Fear the gods,’” was the indirect reply. “And what do you think the theologians had the sublime impudence to do? They translated it, ‘Fear the rulers.’ But, as to insane persons. Can any of the medico-scientists tell the reason for insanity? Can they explain it in any way? They stop when they come to anything that requires an explanation involving the so-called supernatural—so called because nothing can be supernatural. The whole universe is filled with spirits. It is nonsense to suppose that we are the only intelligent beings in tho world. I believe there is latent spirit in all matter. I believe, almost, in the spirits of the elements. But all is governed by natural laws. Even in cases of apparent violation of these laws the appearance comes from a misunderstanding of the laws. In cases of certain nervous diseases it is recorded of some patients that they have been raised from their beds by some undiscoverable power, and it has been impossible to force them down. In such cases it has been noticed that they float feet first with any current of air that may be passing through the room. The wonder of this ceases when you come to consider that there is no such thing as the law of gravitation as it is generally understood.”
“I don’t think I catch your meaning, exactly,” said the reporter faintly.
“No. The law of gravitation is only to be rationally explained in accordance with magnetic laws, as Newton tried to explain it, but as the world would not accept it. If the earth is, magnetically speaking, positive, and you can make yourself positive, you are at once repelled. It is told in a fable of Simon Magus, that he lay down on the earth, and giving her his breath took hers and visited the stars.
“The world is fast coming to know many things that were known centuries ago, and were discarded through the superstition of theologians,” she continued, referring again to Spiritualism. “The church professes to reprobate divination, and yet they chose their four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John by divination. They took some hundred or so of books at the Nicene Council and set them up, and those that fell down they throw aside as false, and those that stood, being those four, they accepted as true; being unable to decide the question in any other way. And out of the three hundred and eighteen members of the Council only two—Eusebius, the great forger, and the Emperor Constantine—were able to read. The rest were ignorant donkeys. And the theologians of today are as great donkeys as they were—greater than Balaam’s, for he knew a spirit when he saw it, and owned up to it at once.
“Yes, I suppose there will be any quantity of mud thrown at me,” she said, referring to the probable reception of her book [Isis Unveiled] by the public. “They have been throwing mud at me ever since I came here, but that has been nothing to what will come when the book appears.” But she laughed heartily at the prospect, and seemed to think that the adverse criticisms which she expected from theologians and scientists would be the best compliments she could receive.
1. Thou shalt not revile the gods.—Exodus xxii: 28.